PRAGUE – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he had received assurances from the top Saudi diplomat that the kingdom would conduct a thorough investigation into the assassination of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr Mattis met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at lunchtime Saturday at a security conference in Bahrain. Their discussion took place after Mattis condemned the killing of Khashoggi in a speech at the event and warned that such extralegal behavior by nations could destabilize the Middle East.
"We discussed it," said Mattis, recounting the conversation with Jubeir Sunday during a trip to the Czech Republic. Their discussion, said Mattis, stressed "the need for transparency, a comprehensive investigation".
He said, "We need to know what happened. "It was very collaborative, agree," added Mattis.
The midday discussion took place after Jubeir described the population's reaction to Khashoggi's assassination as "somewhat hysterical" in response to questions about the murder at the security conference. The top Saudi diplomat suggested that people jumped to guilt conclusions before Riyadh completed his investigation.
"We will know the truth," Jubeir said. "We will hold those responsible accountable. And we will put mechanisms in place to prevent this from happening again. "
Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic who fled the kingdom and settled in the United States, joined the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to retrieve the necessary documents to marry his Turkish bride.
Turkish officials said that a "strike team" consisting of Saudi agents rushed to the Gulf had killed Khashoggi at the consulate and dismembered his body before returning to Saudi Arabia. Turkey says it has secret footage of events, which Turkish officials have recently played for CIA director Gina Haspel.
The country's numerous media reports of the murder, which appeared in the media, put pressure on Saudi Arabia to reveal what its government knew about what appeared to be state-sanctioned extrajudicial killing.
In particular, the incident raised questions as to whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a target of Khashoggi's criticism, was aware of the macabre conspiracy.
Riyadh's changing explanations of what happened – what President Trump called "the worst cover-up ever" – have raised serious questions in the United States and elsewhere about Riyadh's ability to conduct a comprehensive investigation. on an incident that may involve its leaders.
Asked at a press conference in Prague about how the Saudi government could investigate whether the crown prince was involved in the murder, Mattis pointed out that the evidence collected by the Turkish authorities would also be taken into account.
"Turkey, with the evidence gathered, will ensure that there is more of an examination of what is going on here," Mattis said. "I am sure the investigation will include the evidence presented by Turkey so far."
The Saudi government initially denied knowing of Khashoggi's disappearance, saying he had left the consulate in Istanbul. The kingdom then announced that the Saudi journalist and columnist of the "Opinions" section of the Washington Post had died accidentally in a fight with Saudi agents. A few days later, the Attorney General of Riyadh seemed to suggest that the murder had been premeditated.
On the eve of the public outcry, Saudi leaders arrested more than a dozen suspects, sacked six senior officials and announced the reorganization of the country's intelligence operations.
Despite the outcry, Trump has ruled out arms deals with Saudi Arabia, the main importer of arms from US defense contractors.
His administration has made the kingdom a pillar of his strategy in the Middle East, including the fight against Iran, the negotiation of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the end of the wars in Yemen and Syria.
In response to the murder, Mattis said Saturday, the government is pursuing a "double imperative" of "protecting America and holding those responsible for the murder to account."